KOEI TECMO GAMES CO. LTD. has released the third title of the DEAD OR ALIVE Xtreme series in DMM back in 2017, and in Steam (Certain countries in Asia only) on 2019. As a spin-off of the DEAD OR ALIVE series, the game is set in a remote fictitious tropical island called Venus Island in the Pacific once again.
Before coming to the review itself, the English version of this game is only available in a few countries because of the gacha (loot box) and paywall system which can be very expensive. In this review, I will be playing this title without spending a single cent to determine if it is really possible to play the game for free. In addition to the large amounts of ecchi and fan service, it also includes certain voiced and graphical representations of sexual harassment that may not be suitable for certain audiences. If you don't mind these restrictions, then read on.
The founder of the island resort, Zack Lee, decides to invite the various characters from the DEAD OR ALIVE series along with several other new characters exclusive to the PC version to get acquainted with the owner (the player) who Zack is entrusting to manage the resort in his stead.
The owner will host beach volleyball games, design new swimwear for the various girls, and organize a variety of other activities for the girls to enjoy during their stay in Venus Island as they get to know the owner and the other girls better.
This game runs like a persistent online game in the form of a different themed event every week that usually has at least a couple of cutscenes, partial voice acting with each girl being voiced by a different voice actress, and a variety of items to be won for that week. Some of the voiced lines are not translated and don't have subtitles in the English version.
This game is not meant for players who plan to speedrun through everything as it can take months of grinding to get a girl to level 50 out of 80. Neither would I advise spending any money on gachas as the benefits are too short at only one week, and the rate of winning anything is so low it can be very disappointing.
Nevertheless, if the player is sensible enough to manage the in-game resources wisely, and can afford the time to spend about 20 minutes to an hour or so each day, at higher levels it is possible to unlock virtually every girl, level them up, and unlock their stories without spending a cent.
In this review, I will be covering my progress in the game across three different stages after spending more than a year in the English version of the game. The Japanese version is 16 months ahead of the English version, has more girls available for players to unlock, wider variety of background music, more items for players to use, and fanservice elements.
Of course the Japanese version only supports Japanese language, but this version of the game is more competitive at online ranked multiplayer events compared to the English one.
Early stage gameplay (Levels 1-20)
When starting out, you are given a short tutorial on how things work in the game and a choice of two girls to play matches. At very low levels, I had to play low-ranked matches which yielded low rewards. I had to manage resources wisely to play matches and complete the daily missions with only weak rare and super rare (SR) equipment. I wasn't that lucky at gachas, and didn't remember winning any of the super super rare (SSR) swimwear available at that time. However, I did start to collect my first few SSR swimwears on the girls' birthdays that can be obtained for free on those specific days of the year, and from completing a particular main match which is always guaranteed. Little by little, I began to win the higher ranked matches and win prizes to level up my characters, upgrade gear, unlock more girls, and play gachas with free Venus stones more often.
Mid-stage gameplay (Levels 20-49)
A couple of months into the game I started to see my luck improving as I would win trend SSR swimwear that gives a huge bonus to the girl that the event is for that week. I started to unlock more girls and began to stockpile on a lot of prizes and resources. Most of the time will usually be spent skipping through most matches just to grind points and various items. With the trend SSR outfits, it becomes possible to win most of the event matches by simply skipping entire matches in the event that I didn't win anything at the week's gachas.
Late-stage gameplay (Levels >50)
After more than half a year into the game, I have unlocked most of the girls except those behind paywalls, all with trend SSR swimwear. I have also collected a few SSR accessories for certain girls in prizes at certain events, or by reaching a certain ranking in the online leaderboard. At this point, the gameplay, background music, and voiced dialogue has become so repetitive that I usually turn off all sound and find myself auto clicking to skip all matches while watching online videos or doing my other stuff (such as writing this review (✿◠‿◠) ) on another window in my computer. In addition, it becomes possible to awaken a particular girl's trend SSR swimwear to maximum rank which may bring out the cuteness or fanservice and unlock certain hidden passive skills that confer a massive advantage to make it easier to skip and win even high-ranked matches as a reward.
Cutscenes and Visual Novel Elements
Each girl has an episode that is unlocked at every 10 levels the girl has attained. They usually involve teasing and fan service as the girl tries on various swimwear, adopts a variety of poses for the owner to take pictures of, and scenes showing how they are slowly warming up to the owner. These episodes usually have subtitles that are closest to the voiced lines.
Every week's Venus festival event will usually have at least a couple of episodes that feature at least two girls in that week's trend swimwear. These events have a variety of themes ranging from various folklore, the island's history, festivals, otaku and geek culture, to even collaboration events (eg. Destiny Child, Atelier Ryza, Senran Kagura).
These cutscenes tend to use many of the generic voiced lines for the girls featured in them, and I could spot typo errors, although they are very few and far between. They also remind me of the usual weekly episodes that resemble soap opera dramas for American wrestling shows. For me, they are entertaining and funny for the most part, although it may not be for everyone.
As a persistent online game, this game will inevitably have lag and loading problems. Therefore, players are advised to finish grinding for their stuff and prizes one day before the week's event ends. The admins will usually award free venus stones to players as compensation.
The game has also crashed out on me several times, although considering I have been logging into this game nearly every day to grind stuff, it is still within acceptable limits. I also tried taking screenshots through Steam for event notifications to note down the rules and prizes for the week's event, and it saved a blank screen instead. Clicking on buttons too quickly during matches can fail to work properly as well.
DEAD OR ALIVE Xtreme Venus Vacation doesn't really have much gameplay for those expecting a game with beach volleyball or multiplayer with other players. Most of the gameplay is focused on managing your resources, pitting your girls' stats and equipment against a rival team, allowing higher numbers and luck to win the day, and simply clicking through matches for hours to level up, win prizes and unlock certain high level secrets as usual with JRPGs and KOEI TECMO games.
As this is a "free-to-play" game that relies on paywalls and gachas as a source of income to the development team, I can understand the frustration that comes when players fail to win anything who may have spent a fortune in the gacha system. At the time of this review after more than two years since the English version of this game has been released, there is at least one girl, a small percentage of cutscenes, items, and events that are locked behind paywalls. On the other hand, it is also possible to unlock most of the content and reach a stage where the player can simply skip most matches and win the good prizes at the week's event without spending any money in this game. Some of the characters behind paywalls will have their paywalls removed months later helping to reinforce the free-to-play mindset if you have the patience to wait for those characters.
Each character has a different voice actress which helps to bring out the unique personalities for every girl in the game. The visuals are the main reason to play this game and the developer does this quite well with cute chibi artwork and attractive 3D models and swimwear (✿◠‿◠).
The background music is also good. I like Honoka's theme: Like the Blue Sky that is played during the management part of the game for the cheery upbeat tune and accompanying bass to match the playable girl Honoka's lively personality. I also like Blowin' my Mind (Japanese version only) and the Until the Morning Comes for their equally cheery, upbeat and catchy tunes that are played during the late afternoon beach volleyball games, giving the player additional motivation to enjoy the action at the semi-final or final matches of that rank.
Despite encountering some gameplay problems, I still recommend playing DEAD OR ALIVE Xtreme Venus Vacation because there are large amounts of cute teasing and fanservice, a somewhat entertaining variety of themed events every week, and I have been able to manage progressing through the game without spending a cent so far.
If you meet the geographical restrictions imposed on the English version of this game, or don't mind the Japanese version, are a patient player who can accept the fan service, gacha system, and spending hundreds of hours by playing this game for at least a year or more, this is a nice free-to-play game to pass the time.
Like the Blue Sky, Blowin' my Mind and Until the Morning Comes on YouTube by Jack Collins
Initial gameplay video on YouTube by Red Venom Corp.